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FBI Spying on Occupy Movement Revealed
Recently released FBI documents received through Freedom of Information requests by a Washington DC civil right organization reveal surveillance of the Occupy Movement nationwide and in the Bay Area.
The fall of 2011 was most noteworthy in the US for the rapid rise of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Following on the Arab Spring uprisings and similar actions in Greece and Spain, protest encampments and cries of “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” swept across the nation, from Zuccotti Park in NYC to Wells Fargo and the Federal Reserve banks in San Francisco.
But, just as swiftly, a wave of brutal police attacks came down on the encampments just a few months later. These attacks scattered the occupiers and their protests to the four winds, and sought to relegate them to the dustbin of forgotetn US history.
Immediately outraged questions arose. Were the simultaneous police attacks merely coincidence, or were they coordinated at the highest levels of the US government?
Suspicions ran high, but hard answers were scarce.
But then, at the end of last year, some answers began to surface.
These appeared in a December 22 report, “FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring.” A Washington DC based civil rights group, The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), published the report.
The report begins, “FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund pursuant to the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act demands reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did ‘not condone the use of violence’ at occupy protests.”
One such document, ”Potential Criminal Activity Alert,” filed by the FBI’s Indianapolis office on September 15, 2011, states ”In July 2011, Adbusters, a self identified American revolutionary anarchist group, advocated a ‘take over’ of Wall Street on 17 September 2011. The group ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is an online offshoot of the declaration of Adbusters. Occupy Wall Street is calling for ‘20,000 people to flood Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens and barricades and occupy Wall Street for months.’
“Their primary motivation is to demonstrate the perceived ‘greed and corruption’ of the US banking and financial sector.”
The PCJF report states, “As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protest that wouldn’t start for another month. By September, prior to the start of OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest.”
The FBI’s September 15 document goes on, “…the group OWS does not openly condone violence or illegal activities. However, their website offers information on ‘dealing with first responders, chaotic protesting,’ and suggested that protesters bring billy clubs and taser guns.”
But, as it turned out, it was overwhelmingly the police who brought and used such weapons.
In the most infamous such incident, Occupy and Iraq Vets Against the War activist Scott Olsen was shot in the head with a “nonlethal” beanbag by an Oakland cop in that city, while protesting with thousands of others Occupy Oakland’s forcible eviction from its encampment in front of City Hal,l on October 25, 2011.
The shot fractured Olsen’s skull.
When other protesters came to his aid, Oakland police assaulted them as well, firing tear gas canisters at them.
On December 13, 2012, Scott Olsen filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Oakland for the damages he suffered there in October 2011. The effects of his injuries continue, including speech and memory problems.
Spying on the Port of Oakland Shut Downs
At the end of 2011 Occupy Oakland shut down the Port of Oakland twice. The port is the 5th largest in the US.
The first shutdown, on November 2, 2011, was the focus of a General Strike called by Occupy Oakland, and was largely a response to the police assault on its encampment in late October, and the subsequent police violence that brutalized many, and resulted in Scott Olsen’s broken skull.
Exactly one month later, on December 2, 2011, the Occupy Movement united with organized labor with to shut down ports on the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego. This happened after Oakland’s finest attacked and destroyed Occupy Oakland’s encampment again in late November.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund obtained FBI documents include a number related to the Port of Oakland shutdowns.
One thing these documents reveal is that is wasn’t only the FBI that was secretly spying on the Occupy movement. Other agencies doing so were the Department of Homeland Security, The US Coast Guard, US Customs and Immigrant Enforcement agency (ICE), and Naval Criminal Investigative Services.
PJFC also stated, “Documents released show coordination between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector.”
Specifically, an organization named the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC) issued a [belated] report on December 9, 2011, “Protesters Plan To Shut Down Ports on West Coast.” The report’s stated purpose was “to raise consciousness concerning this type of criminal activity.”
The report detailed the November port of Oakland takeover, noting that protesters “gathered at the Port of Oakland…disrupting evening operations. Protesters used metal chains and body chains in an attempt to prevent longshoremen and truckers“ from entering the port.
The DSAC report also instructed, “Recipients should immediately report any suspicious or criminal activities to their local FBI field or law enforcement office.” Furthermore, it warned, “Recipients are reminded that DSAC [reports] contain sensitive information meant for use primarily for the corporate security community. Such messages shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, general public or other personnel who do not have a valid need-to-know without prior approval from an authorized FBI official.”
The DSAC’s website lists its “Leadership Board” of 25 corporations, and these include American Express, Mastercard, CocaCola, Citigroup, Barclays, Bank of America, General Electric, DuPont, Archer Daniels Midland, United Airlines, and Jet Blue.
Tip of the Iceberg
In its December 22 report PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard stated that the FBI documents they have obtained are “just the tip of an iceberg…a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement.
And so critical questions still remain unanswered, such as the government’s role in the attacks against Occupy sites across the nation in late 2011.
But there have been some initial reports that provide evidence as to the government’s role:
-In a radio interview with BBC radio on November 15, 2011, following the second attack on Occupy Oakland, mayor Jean Quan said she had participated in a conference call with 18 other US mayors “to discuss local responses to the Occupy encampments around the country,” the New York Times reported.
The Times report also cited Portland mayor Sam Adams asserting that there had in fact been two such conference calls. Adams said he first had been October 13, and the second on November 10, just a few days after Occupy Oakland’s second eviction.
-Several dispatches by Minneapolis Top News Examiner journalist Rick Ellis in November 2011 contained information potentially even more damning as to the federal government’s role in the assaults on Occupy sites.
Rick Ellis has more than 20 years as a journalist, and began his career with the Chicago Tribune.
Ellis’ first report, on November 15, 2011, began, “Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities moved to evict Occupy protestesr from city parks or other public places. Each police action shared a number of characteristics.
"According to one [Department of] Justice official, each of these actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police. agencies.
“According to the [unnamed] official, in several recent conference cals briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on housing laws and existing curfew rules.
“Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict be coordinated for a time was when the press was least likely to be present.”
Rick Ellis’ initial story drew strong responses of denial from some of the named agencies, but even more so a lack of response by other agencies.
As Ellis reported in his second dispatch on November 18, “The FBI has so far failed to respond to requests for an official response and of the 14 police agencies contacted in the past 24 hours, all have declined to respond to questions on this issue.”
But Ellis did get a response from “another [unnamed] Justice official. That official’s remarks included the following, from Ellis’ November 18 dispatch:
“The late night raids, the efforts to manage press coverage and bystander interaction. [This] has been used for years. These are tried and true crowd control tactics and they’re just new to this country because we haven’t seen this level of civil disobedience in years.
“The federal government passed along hundreds of millions of dollars to local police departments for terror response. But there are damn few people who know how to handle a group of several hundred angry people in a park.
That’s going to come back to bite us in the same way it did in the 60s. Lack of proper training is going to [get] someone hurt, and that will be on all of us.”
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is not satisfied with what it has received from the FBI. It is filing an appeal “challenging this response and demanding full disclosure to the public of this operation,” staff attorney Heather Benno stated.
For more information on this subject, and to view the FBI documents the PCJF obtained, go to http://www.justiceonline.org